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America's Coming of Age

Well, here we are, in the final act of this off-off-Broadway production of The Emperor and the Buffoon Go to Washington. It’s embarrassing. But that’s an integral part of growth, I suppose, humiliation galore. America is a teenager on the world stage, and so we are acting accordingly, spewing nonsense and angst as though the whole world is watching our every move. Yeah, they’re not. They’re busy living their lives. To be sure, we are hideous in our un-schooled righteousness and environmental acne, but hopefully, in the next four years, our country will experience a growth spurt in renewable energy, lose our global tribe virginity and enjoy maturation of our political contenders.

While we are young, dumb, and full of military industrial complex spending, Gas & Oil is dying. Everyone knows it, whether they want to admit it or not. Oil & Gas is not our eternally youthful acquaintance with a fun-filled adventurous life, but, in fact, a big, loud party guest who is bloated and gassy and too drunk to find its way to the door. So, in the courteous way of Bobbi Flekman, “hostess with the mostess,” we need to politely, but firmly, escort them out. And just think, by switching to renewable energy sources we will be able to generate American jobs, while still enjoying the comfort and ease of all our kitchen countertop gadgets. And, as an added bonus, we can stop supplying arms to countries on the other side of the planet, deflating anti-US terrorism instead of fanning the flames by drone-bombing their children. Just like any addiction, it’s hard as hell, but you always feel better once you’ve quit.

I quit smoking eight years ago, and most of the time I don’t even think about it. But on a recent trip to a country where they still smoke in public, I watched with nostalgic sentiment. Like middle-schoolers at the first dance, all the boys standing on one side of the room and the girls on the other, both insecure and unaware of their boon. I also watched the last US presidential debate, with Chinese subtitles, in an Indian restaurant located inside Chungking Mansions, “possibly the most globalized spot on the planet.”* A place where people from many different cultures live and work alongside each other, and judging from the stains, resolve their differences in the stairwell. A hodgepodge (please excuse the outdated term!) of ideas, beliefs and— most importantly— food. Surrounded by people of all shades, in an old building certainly not up to code, eating unfamiliar food swimming in spicy sauce, I felt as safe as I do in the Pour House. (Though the debate was on tv, the sound was turned down and everyone was talking to each other instead of watching the freak show.)

When I think about the next POTUS, I think about who I would like to sit and have a beer with at the Pour House. We need a leader the whole world would like to sit and have a beer/wine/cup of tea with. Eliminating terrorism is about making allies, not killing our supposed enemies’ families. We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work (but it does create an arena of fear and hate, two things necessary in order to sell more war.) We’re at an age now where we can start learning from our mistakes. It’s time to grow up and participate in the adult’s table conversation, i.e., listen to and respect other countries’ foreign policy positions.

We’re old enough to start thinking of others and taking responsibility for our actions. In order to be the big man on campus we have to get rid of our awkward teenage self-centeredness and genuinely help each other find our way to the Equal Rights and Democratic Process class. If we can shed our oligarchic high-water pants and our tight shirt of provincial monotheism, and don a loose-fitting, more comfortable self-awareness, then we’ll really hit our stride, contributing and playing an important part in this crazy play we call Life on Earth.

p.s. Don’t forget to vote.

*Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong by Gordon Mathews

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